Since coloratura soprano Sumi Jo made her international operatic debut as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in Italy in 1986, the 25 years of world tours and musical explorations have made her musical life “free.”
Such a free-spirited and gypsy-like image is the core concept of Jo’s latest album “Libera,” or liberty in Italian, which marks the soprano’s 25th anniversary of her international debut, Jo said.
“I can’t believe that I’m facing my 25th anniversary, and time really flies. But I’m only halfway through. The next 25 years will be the same journey like my past 25 years, with unchanged passion and curiosity,” Jo said in a press conference in Seoul, Wednesday.
Soprano Sumi Jo speaks at a press conference in Seoul, Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
“While I was able to travel so many places, the world was amazing and there was so much to learn in every country, in every music. The album expresses all of my experiences in a romantic and free musical world.”
In the 1980s in Europe, it was extremely rare for an Asian singer to take a lead operatic role.
Jo’s 1986 debut in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” led legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan to cast her as Oscar in Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” with Placido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival in 1988.
She became a world-class opera star, recording the challenging aria “the Queen of the Night” in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” with three different recording labels.
“In the old days, I was focusing on songs that required high techniques so that the audience would drop their jaws at my singing. But as times went by, I became weary. These days, I’m more into unknown, unrecorded opera songs,” Jo said.
“Also, I want to become a bridge between classical music and the masses so that people could easily listen to classical music,” said the 48-year-old, who recently recorded the soundtrack for U.S. drama series “Mildred Pierce,” starring Kate Winslet. Jo also released a musical album “Only Love.”
Among the 13 tracks in the latest album, Jo picked three as her favorites ― “Hijo De La Luna” by Jose Maria Cano, “Songs My Mother Taught Me from ‘Gypsy Melodies’ Op. 55” by Dvorak and “Song for Reunification” by Ahn Byeong-won and Kim Texu. The recording was done with Prague Philharmonia, conductor Ondrej Lenard, violinist Kim Su-yoen, tenor Jo Jung-ki and baritone Han Myung-won.
“When I recorded ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me from ‘Gypsy Melodies’, I couldn’t continue recording for 30 minutes because I was emotionally overwhelmed by thoughts for my mother,” Jo said.
“The last track signifies that although I’ve been sing on the world stage for 25 years, my last destination is Korea. I am the Korean, as is any Korean, who wants reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” she said.
The soprano said she has never sung “the Queen of the Night” live in Seoul but she hopes to do so in the near future.
Jo is to hold “Hyundai Capital Invitational Park Concert” on Sept. 24 at an outdoor stage of the Olympic Park’s 88 Jandi Madang. The concert program will be a variety of opera arias under the theme, “songs of gypsy and bohemians.” The arias include “Gypsy Carmen” in Bizet opera “Carmen,” “I Hear the Sound of Cymbals” in Lehar operetta “Gypsy Love” and “Oh Lovely Maiden” in Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
Conductor Steven Mercurio, tenor Joseph Calleja, violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill, guitarist Milos Karadaglic and the Korea Symphony Orchestra will perform.
“People have always complained that my concert is too expensive. But this time, it is a perfect chance because tickets are really affordable,” Jo said.
Tickets range from 10,000 won to 50,000 won. Children under 5 will not be admitted. For tickets, visit privia.hyundaicard.com, www.clubbalcony.com or www.interpark.com.
By Kim Yoon-mi (email@example.com